The possum is one of the greatest threats to our natural environment.
The common brushtail possum, Trichosurus vulpecula, was first introduced to New Zealand from Australia in 1837 to establish a fur trade. This release was unsuccessful and a second release 20 years later at the same Southland location was required for them to establish.
The possum has a thick, bushy tail, thick body fur, a pointed snout and large, pointed ears. There are two colour forms of the species – grey and black, with many variations in appearance. Possums can walk, jump and bound and its prehensile tail helps it move around tree branches.
The size and weight of possums varies across New Zealand. Typically, adult possums are 65 to 95 cm long and weigh 1.5 to 5 kg.
Possums are nocturnal and can live anywhere where there is shelter and a varied food supply. They are now widespread across most of New Zealand. The main habitat is forest, and possum densities can be particularly high in podocarp-broadleaf forests. Margins where forest meets pasture are also popular habitat and support very dense populations.
Are Opossums Dangerous?
Dangers & Concerns
Mostly considered minor nuisances, opossums become problematic when they decide to nest and forage near residential and commercial areas. The pesky critters disrupt homes, gardens, chicken coops, and areas reserved for pets while rummaging for food. When encountered directly, the creatures hiss and growl.
Occasionally, opossums attack pets or even humans with their sharp, pointed teeth; however, opossum attacks are rare and unlikely. More commonly, the pests pretend to be dead and emit an awful stench from their anal glands when frightened.
Opossums become dangerous with their ability to transmit diseases to pets and people. Known to carry leptospirosis, tuberculosis, coccidiosis, spotted fever, tularemia, and other diseases, the pesky creatures pose serious health threats when they invade urban environments.
Furthermore, opossums serve as host animals to fleas, ticks, lice, and mites, which puts dogs and cats at risk of becoming infested with these parasites. Owners of horses should be aware of the dangers associated with opossums that carry a protozoan known as Sarcocystis neurona, which can lead to neurologic disease in equines.
Common possum problems
Possums in roofs
Possums are nocturnal animals. With the removal of many large old gum trees, finding shelter and nesting sites is becoming their biggest challenge. For common brushtail possums one common alternative is buildings with roof space access.
There are several options available for managing your possum problem that are in keeping with their protected status.
Possums in gardens
You can only trap possums living in buildings not in your garden. If you believe that possums are damaging your garden and eating the fruit from your trees, there are a range of steps you can take to deter them. Please
Injured possums should be taken to a registered vet or to a wildlife carer/rescue organisation. Your nearest wildlife carer/rescue organisation can be found in the Yellow Pages listed under animal welfare organisations.
How do you prevent a possum problem?
There’re several things you can do to discourage possums from moving into your property. These are:
Covering openings that possums can use to gain access to your house. You can use wire mesh for large holes and slotted vent covers for ventilation holes.
Trim tree branches to at least 50ft from your homes roof as possums can use the overhanging branches to access your roof – they’re pretty good climbers.
Install grid screens or any other suitable barrier to protect your low decks from possums.
Cover your outdoor bins. Leaving your outdoor bins uncovered will attract possums and other wild animals due to the presence of food.
Clean up food leftovers on your property. Leftovers from barbecues should be cleared immediately to avoid attracting wild animals including possums.
What possum control options are available in the home?
If possums have already found their way into your home or are a persistent problem on your property, there’re several control methods that you can use to get rid of them. These include:
Live Possum Traps
Live traps are a great option, but you had better check to see if you need a permit to trap any possums at your home. Pestrol live traps are large enough to capture a possum and hold it until you can release it. The open size of the trap is 24 cm wide by 66 cm long and 26 cm high. The possum will not be injured when it is captured. These traps are very easy to bait and can be put together very quickly. You do not need to use any fancy tools to put the trap together. Once you capture a possum you can transport it and release it into the wild. There is also some mesh around the area of where the bait is located that prevents the possum from stealing the bait and eluding the trap. The handle is shielded for your protection so that you can carry the trap and not have to worry about being bitten or scratched.
The trap arrives in a folded flat condition with the instructions needed to unfold it into a usable position. Cable ties are then cut to allow the trap to expand open. Instructions will show you how to set the trap up and get ready for your first capture. Always ensure that you are permitted to trap possums in your local area before you get started. The best way to ensure that the trap is effective is to place it on a flat surface, bait it beyond the trip plate and use canned pet food. Try to camouflage the trap itself with the use of leaves and twigs around the trap. Check the trap every day in case you have caught a possum, you don’t want it to suffer for an extended period of time in the trap.
Motion sensor outdoor lights
This is activated when pests are in range and are detected by the device. There are two modes:
Continuous Sweep: This mode utilises a wide range of ultrasonic and sonic frequencies at random intervals. The motion detector does not function on this setting. This is useful to repel a variety of pests.
Constant: this setting will activate the sonic noises and the ultrasonic device which will cycle through a wide range of varying intervals. If you use the constant setting the motion detector is automatically deactivated.
This useful device can be placed in a variety of locations including in the garden, in a carport, in workshops, under the eaves of your home, around your yard, in a campsite while you are camping, in a barn, on your rooftop, balcony, patio or porch. You can also use the device in a ceiling cavity, in a greenhouse, near a pond or around a food storage area. The control box is completely waterproof and has a remote control. The device is also completely portable and can be powered with the use of four C cell batteries.
Releasing trapped possums
- Trapped possums must be released on the property on which they are captured, no more than 50 metres from the capture site after sunset on the day of capture.
- Relocation of brushtail possums is prohibited
- Where it is not reasonably possible to release the possum on your property, possums must be humanely destroyed by a registered veterinary practitioner, at the trapper’s expense, within 24 hours of capture
- Releasing possums during the day increases their stress and puts them at risk of being attacked and injured